I wanted to love 419 by WIll Ferguson SO FREAKIN’ MUCH! I mean, the book won a Giller and was on every bestseller list in the country. And while it was an enjoyable read, it didn’t wow me. With the exemption of the last 20 pages, it was barely a page-turner. Perhaps my expectations were too high. It’s bound to happen when there are so many amazing books out there.
419 is about a Canadian family left devastated after the father falls for a Nigerian scam also known as 419. If you’ve ever receive some ridiculously misspelled and overly formal email telling you that you have been left $100 billion dollars from your uncle in Nigeria, you too have been the target of a 419 scam.
The main protagonist Laura Curtis is left wondering what happened after her father falls for the scam and commits suicide. The story shifts between a blustering cold Canadian city, presumably Calgary or Edmonton, where Laura and her family resides, and Nigeria.
The Nigerian parts of the story exciting, tropical and riveting. There’s the wiley 419 scammer named Winston, a village boy turned oil rigger named Nnamdi and the tribal pregnant girl Amira. Needless to say, Laura’s path eventually joins with Winston, Nnamdi and Amira.
419 would have been so much better had Nnamdi and Amira’s story been the focus. Laura is a lovely girl but she’s bland and slightly dumb. Her brother is dumber. They are made even more bland in comparison with the action packed, civil war plagued setting of Nigeria. After all, Will Ferguson is a renowned travel writer.
But I will give him kudos for shining the light on 419 with all its political and ethical implications. The problem isn’t so much poor Nigerian con artists scamming rich Westerners, it’s the vicious cycle of human greed that makes us all hungry enough to do anything.